By Andrew McGinn
Friday, March 13, 2009
Even if I bought the sitar in the pawnshop window, I wouldn't really
know what to do with it.
I mean, I know you sit cross-legged to play it or at least Ravi
Shankar and George Harrison do in the YouTube clips.
But considering I can't even play the guitar, what makes me think I'd
be able to play another member of the lute family?
What makes me think I can even sit cross-legged?
So I'll have to pass.
Unless, of course, I walked into Goodwill right now and found a
paisley jacket with lace cuffs and a pair of velvet pants preferably purple.
That's what you'd call destiny.
Then again, I suppose anything's possible.
After all, what are the odds of seeing a sitar in the window of a
I'm not sure why I think it's so amusing that Sam Beloff of Rose City
Fine Jewelry and Loan has a sitar in his storefront window.
Maybe it's just so unexpected.
I'm used to being stopped at the red light in front of his downtown
shop and seeing guitars, drums, trombones.
The typical pawnshop stuff.
But I recently did a double-take was that actually a sitar in the window?
"Isn't that cool? That is, no kidding, an Indian sitar," Beloff said.
Cool? Most definitely.
But it's obvious that it's been a while since the sitar was in vogue.
"No one knows what it is," Beloff confessed.
Never mind the fact that Indians have been rocking the sitar as far
back as the 1500s.
Actually, over there, the sitar is a classical instrument.
But like chicken tikka masala, I like my Indian with a British touch
the sitar's use in '60s psychedelic music is an exotic reminder of
how musicians were, no pun intended, tripping over themselves to push
the boundaries of rock.
"Anybody from my generation who remembers The Beatles," Beloff said,
"will instantly know what this is."
So how did it get here?
Duh a guru pawned it.
It was pawned in San Francisco, Beloff said, then "sold and sold and sold."
Beloff got it from a fellow pawnbroker in Michigan and put it on
display a week ago.
"My first thought was, 'Nobody is going to know what the hell it is,'
" he said.
"I was really tempted to buy that," Lawrence Boyd said as he was
picking up several guitars he'd left with Beloff for collateral.
"Finding a sitar teacher is going to be the next problem."
Beloff said he's called around to find a few gurus.
Now if only I can find those velvet pants.
Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Magical mystery music
In the mid-1960s, your band wasn't cool if it didn't have a sitar (or
the easier-to-play electric sitar) on at least one song. My favorite examples:
The Beatles, "Love You To" (1966) George Harrison busts out the
sitar (and the tabla) on this "Revolver" highlight. The ultimate in raga-rock.
The Rolling Stones, "Paint it Black" (1966) A No. 1 hit and one of
the Stones' most killer singles. That's Brian Jones on sitar.
Donovan, "Guinevere" (1966) This is middle-Earth music. A haunting
tale of medieval Camelot, it features Shawn Phillips on sitar.
Donovan would later accompany The Beatles to India to study
transcendental meditation with the Maharishi.
Them were the days.
The Pretty Things, "Defecting Grey" (1967) These British
proto-punks went psychedelic with everybody else, but theirs was way
creepier. This rare single (seek out the five-minute version)
features cool backward sitar.
The band used George Harrison's sitar borrowed when he wasn't around.
The Hollies, "Maker" (1967) "Days of yellow saffron, nights with
purple skies." Can you believe people actually wrote lyrics like that?
The Kinks, "See My Friends" (1965) There's no sitar, but this one
gets an honorable mention as the first pop song to channel Indian music.
Later that year, The Beatles became the first to use a sitar on